The Kong Dog Toy Brand Was Built From One Cheap Car Part

If you've ever thought Kong dog toys look like bump stops, there's a good reason for that.
Comparing the Kong dog toy to the car part that inspired it.
Andrew P. Collins

The Kong toy is a classic dog accessory, and pups go nuts for the bouncy snowman-looking things. Today, Kong is a fixture of the pet industry with a whole catalog of toys for dogs and cats, but it all started at a Colorado mechanic’s shop in the 1970s. The story says the original Kong, now called the Kong Classic, was modeled after a Volkswagen Bus bump stop. I found one, and yeah, they look identical. But interestingly, Bramble the dog prefers the Kong version.

Joe Markham started selling dog toys in 1976, but before that, he fixed cars in Denver. Volkswagen even found a photo of his old shop and put it on its newsroom website a few years ago. Looks like he specialized in VWs, and even had some wacky custom Beetles in the mix.

Markham’s Denver shop, 1970-something, in a photo unearthed by VW in 2021. The inset of Fritz is from Kong’s website. Volkswagen, Kong, edited by the author

Apparently, Markham’s German Shepherd Fritz was a big chewer, constantly putting things in his mouth and wrecking his teeth gnawing on rocks. And I guess one day while a Type 2 Bus was partially dismantled for suspension work, the mechanic tossed his dog one of the vehicle’s bump stops and finally discovered something the Fritz could gnaw on without immediately destroying it.

Bump stops, sometimes called axle stops, are little rubber nubs that are like a last line of safety if your suspension bottoms out. So if you hit a huge bump and you use up all your suspension travel, theoretically, the bump stop will reduce some of that shock to the vehicle and maybe prevent the car from destroying itself. Ideally, you’re not hitting your bump stops with any kind of regularity, even if you drive like a maniac.

Kong on the left, VW part on the right. Andrew P. Collins

Still, they’re extremely robust for obvious reasons. If and when they ever get used, they’re hit with a whole lot of force. So it makes sense that a dog would have a tough time chewing through one. These old VW bus examples are particularly chunky, too.

Both Kong and Volkswagen have validated that origin story of the Kong toy. Perhaps you’ve even read it before. I followed the thread just a little further and figured out that the exact part in question is P/N 211 501 191; “rubber stop rear axle.” That fits Type 2 VW Buses from 1966 to 1979 and Type 3s from ’62 to ’66.

From there, of course, it was easy to find one on eBay, and I had it shipped to our New York garage for about $12. Grabbing a Kong Classic was even easier; they’re available online and at basically any store that sells dog products. They’re cheaper than the VW part and come in multiple sizes.

Looking at the dog toy and bump stop together, I found the visual similarity pretty funny. I mean, they look generally the same, just packaged differently. But the modern-day Kong toy is in fact a lot more malleable. The VW part is nearly rock-hard and bounces a little, but the Kong toy has some nice give to it and flies around excitedly when you drop it on a hard surface. It also has two holes, instead of just one, and a larger internal cavity for storing treats or peanut butter-like snackable spreads to keep a dog entertained for a very long time.

Andrew P. Collins

Most dogs do love peanut butter, but you should only give them the natural stuff—common peanut butters like standard Skippy and Jif can have other ingredients that aren’t great for canines. Kong also sells its own squeeze-cheese-style snack you can fill these toys with.

Finally, I was curious to see if our dog Bramble would be interested in the VW part like Fritz was all those years ago. She was not. I put the Kong and the VW part out for her, and she gave the bump stop a brief sniff, but basically ignored it entirely. As another aside, I strongly advise against giving your dog car parts to play with in general. Even clean ones can sometimes have oily coatings or be made with chemicals that are toxic.

Bramble is not really a chewer, and she spends a lot of time around car parts that she never touches. So I suppose I’m not surprised that she didn’t care about the bump stop. Once I put some peanut butter on the Kong, it was all over—she licked it clean and never went back to the car part at all. She also liked the Kong when it bounced and she could pounce after it. Moving targets are her favorite form of stimulation.

With that in mind, I can’t say she’s as obsessed with the Kong as Fritz might have been. She hasn’t played with it much since our photoshoot, through I know she’ll have her nose in it again next time I re-pack the inside with treats. Those Kong Squeakair tennis balls, however, that’s a different story. Brambles lives for those things. She probably makes me buy her a three-pack every couple of months (she buries some, the lawnmower gets the rest). Not sure how easily I can work that into a story on a car blog, but I might give it a shot. Maybe my Civic could use a Squeakair livery before its next hillclimb race.